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Linda Donovan does what she loves

The Urban Cork, closed since the pandemic began, is about to pop back open

In The Urban Cork, to the soundtrack of her shiny black Lab, Shamrock, and his squeaky toy, Linda Donovan and I sat down for a sipping conversation about winemaking, and what’s to come.

After working in California, Australia and Southern Oregon, Donovan’s lofty ideas got the best of her so she decided to break out “and do something probably small.” Pallet Wine Co. was the first custom crush in Southern Oregon, and still likely the largest.

Donovan knows the soils and terroir of many vineyards — she must as she works with different ones daily. Winemakers know their own terroir, but at Pallet they create wines from clients in Southern Oregon, Texas, California and West Virginia. Keeping wines distinctive and true to their nature, she uses only natural yeasts and bacteria, no artificial colors or tastes.

“I don’t add any of the things people can add to wines — no thickeners, sterilants; it’s low intervention,” she states. “I’m very traditional in a sense. It’s how wines are made in France, in Italy. I don’t want to use high-tech American chemicals or yeasts.”

When I asked what she looks for in wine she answered, “typicité.”

Typicité is generally understood as how well a varietal reflects its origins and signature characteristics. Donovan defines it as “unprocessed true flavors.”

“That’s one of my goals — silky smooth, distinctive, balanced — and really let the vineyard and varietal express itself. I’m not blending in 15% of another wine and not declaring it on the label. I want my varietals to be pure.”

She says people often tell her she’s lucky.

“Maybe,” she says. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I was so fortunate to have found a path I love. I’ve always loved teaching and fixing stuff. When something breaks, I always say, ‘I’ll fix it.’ I just love my business. Maybe I was just lucky with the timing.”

Linda Donovan’s passion has created an outlook to express what she loves to do. Perhaps that’s how she came to have a dog named Shamrock.

Here are three L. Donovan wines with local women viticulturists at their roots. In each wine, the presence of alcohol is subtle: It’s not the first taste, the flavors are.

2019 Chenin Blanc, 100% Varner Traul Vineyard, Lena Traul and Heather Davis: White peach melds with a blossomy undertone, minerality and delicate wet stone slip through the creamy mouthfeel. It is deliciously fresh with a rounded palate.

2016 Petite Sirah, 100% Belmont Vineyards, Debbie Luethy: Tantalizing on first scent with fresh chocolate; the nose continues with a finessed palate of bright violets, deep fruit, licorice and a kiss of caramel. A complex, polished wine with silky tannins, it is lighter than many petit sirahs and not bitter. Donovan says it’s one of her favorite wines she’s ever made.

2016 Tempranillo, 100% Chamberland Vineyard, David and Shireen Chamberland: Full-bodied and savory, this earthy wine wraps a blanket around deep cocoa, baking spices and berry notes. Deeper tannins and a sanguine metallic finish off a well-balanced wine. “It’s a little bit dirty, but in a good way,” Donovan says.

The Urban Cork (www.theurbancork.com) tasting room features only Linda Donovan-made Oregon wines. Two years closed, her doors at The Urban Cork reopen April 1.

Don’t miss what’s to come with her new wine district in my next column.

Reach Paula Bandy at pbthegrapevine@gmail.com and connect with her on Instagram at @pbthroughthegrapevine.